Well, thank you, Brady. That was great. If you’re looking for a college, come to CCU, please. I can’t believe this is my last chapel, and the semester and the year are just about at an end, where we’ve got… It’s the quiet before the exams come, and some of you are graduating. Anybody going to graduate?
Come on. Anybody going to graduate? That’s still pretty pathetic. Anybody going to graduate? Come on. Okay. All right. Any senior panic going on? Hey, I’ve got to tell you, Armstrong awards were great. Those of you who did films, I think this was the best year ever. I’ve been here for three of them now, so thank you very much. Wasn’t that a great night, those of you who went? Yeah. They did a great job.
Those of you who are musicians, the music gala and all that you put into it, thank you, musicians, for your good work. I got to go to the [One Acts 00:14:16], and that was a very special night. There’s so much going on. Athletes, I have great admiration for you, because you have so much to do in your sport, and you try to keep your academics, and just thank you for what you do. Girls’ softball team, women’s softball team, well done. Keep going, right? Any women’s softball team players here? Would you stand? Okay. Can we just cheer them on?
Well, this is a very special week, and I’m glad to be able to open God’s word to you. This is sometimes called Holy Week. Some Christians call it Great Week. Some call it Passion Week. It’s a week that has been very important for Christians around the world and through the centuries. The reason why people take time to set apart this week and just do it a little differently and focus on Christ is, because when you read the Gospels, one third of the teaching of Jesus took place during this final week.
One third of his works took place during this holy week. One third of the Gospels is really focused on this passion week. In fact, some have called the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, passion stories with long introductions, because the events of this week are so profound, and so I encourage you to slow down and walk through, whether it’s in your personal reading of the Scriptures or attending events here at CCU, and to focus on Christ as your joy, as your strength, as your Savior.
Some years ago, I went to the doctor to get my eyes checked. He looked at me and said I needed corrective lenses. I’ve had multiple prescriptions now, but when you go to the doctor and you get something checked out, you, all of a sudden, become very mindful of how important that part of your body is, unless you’re President Armstrong, who used to say, “It’s amazing how many body parts you really don’t need,” and… because he worked at the very last day of his life and lost a few body parts along the way.
My eye, your eye is such a miracle. The eye, I don’t know if you know this, but if I can get this to work… There we go. Right. The eye, your eye is directly connected to your brain by optic nerves, and it’s moved by six muscles attached around the eyeball. Light rays entering are focused on the cornea and the lens to form an image on your retina. Our retinas contain millions of light-sensitive cells, which convert the image to nerve impulses.
Those impulses are transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain. The information is then processed in your brain as one coordinated image. Every day, you and I, we take it for granted. When we see the face of the student next to us or look at the food in the “caf” or reading a book, we take it for granted, at how… just the miracle of everyday sight, it’s a wonder that our eyes work.
Along the way, one of the first things to go in your body is your eyes. For some of us, it happens during high school, where your vision starts to go, and you got to get glasses, and you realize… something’s telling you, “Well, maybe you’re not invincible.” It’s happened to me numerous times. I can remember when I had to go from regular glasses to bifocals.
I just had the exam, and the doctor looked at me. It was at the same time in my life when I was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor, okay? The doctor looked at me. He said, “Well, you have presbyopia.” I thought, “You mean, there’s a disease that comes with being ordained as a Presbyterian pastor?” He said, “No. It has nothing to do with that. Presbyopia means old eyes. He says, “That’s… When you need glasses, you have presbyopia. You need… older eyes, so you need… now you need bifocals.”
I needed a new set of lenses, so that I could see straight. I thought of that so many times, but I believe, that, as Christians, when we become a Christian, and as we go, grow as a Christian, we need a new set of lens, so that we can see straight. The last time I spoke to you in chapel, I spoke to you about one way of thinking of these lenses, the grid of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, those parts, those… that pattern that makes up a Christian worldview.
I want to speak to you this morning about another set of lenses, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, especially since this week is so, so important. If you have a Bible, I encourage you to open it to 1 Corinthians 15, and I’m going to be reading verses one through 10, 1 Corinthians 15, verses one through 10. Hear the word of the Lord.
Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel, preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the 12.
Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me, for I am the least of the apostles unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God, but by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain.”
Paul is writing about this gospel. He is highlighting the gospel. He was saved by it, and he’s delivering it to the Corinthians. He’s preaching it to them, and he’s telling us here, that this gospel is extremely old. In other words, he received it. He didn’t make it up on his own, sitting under a tree one day. He didn’t have a vision, and, all of a sudden, the gospel started there. It was passed onto them, onto him, and he was merely a transmitter.
By the way, this means, that if the gospel was passed onto Paul, and he’s writing 1 Corinthians in A.D. 55, scholars think about earlier, maybe 20 years earlier, this event has happened, where the gospel is already being passed on, and now he’s part of the transmission process, which means, that the truth about Jesus, his life, death and resurrection was there very early. It wasn’t made up centuries later by the Church. It was there, and it was received, and it was passed on.
The heart of the gospel for Paul is focused on these two pivotal events, the events of the cross and the resurrection. That’s important, because it reminds us, that the gospel is not, in the first instance, what God has done for me, for God may do wonderful things in our lives. He may save us and deliver us from all kinds of things as we just sang about. Essentially, the gospel is about what God objectively did in history, in Christ through his life, death and resurrection.
You might think of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the twin summits of the gospel, the Torreys and the Grays. Paul wanted his hearers to grasp that. Jesus, when he talked about his work, would always talk about, “I must suffer, and I will be raised.” The two things are always coming together. I wonder if we keep them together. I think that’s the question driving me this morning.
I think, sometimes, we lose half the gospel. When things come our way, when hardships come our way, we… our vision is off. Our lenses are distorted. We have one lens, or we have the other, and we’re not looking with both at what happens to us, and so we panic, or we think crazy thoughts. I’m wondering if you see straight, and I think Holy Week’s a great time to ask that question, because life throws curveballs at you, and it starts happening very early.
You think of some of you this semester, this year, you’ve gone through some really challenging seasons. You’ve had the sudden loss of a parent or the sudden loss of a family member. That’s hard. Some of you have had a major medical crisis that you never counted on. That’s difficult. Some of you have gone through just the trauma of having a parent lose a job, and you’re wondering, “Can I afford to go to college? Will I be back next year?”
Some of you have had roommate issues that have thrown you for a loop. Some of you have had relationships that have gone well and then not gone so well, or a job hasn’t come through for the summer, lots of personal disruptions, and then think about the world disruptions that come our way. I mean, yesterday, what did we see in the news? It was shocking to look at that fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Europe.
This historic building is 800 years old, but it was more than just a historic building. This is the heart of France. You missed the significance of this if you just think it’s a burning old church. This is like, for the French, this is like watching the twin towers fall in New York City, or this is like watching our capital be destroyed or the Vatican or Parliament in Britain being destroyed. I mean, this was an archdiocese for Paris, a functioning church, but this has been an icon of Christendom in western civilization. That’s why it’s so significant.
Or, then think about another thing that’s being thought about this week, and that is the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine. Talk about the disruption and the surprise of life’s curveballs coming at you, when on April 20th, 1999, and this is my first year in Colorado, the worst school shooting in American history at that time, 12 students and one teacher killed, 21 injured, and we’re celebrating the… we’re remembering the 20th anniversary this Saturday.
It was a crime that was planned for a year by these two high school kids, and they had hoped that they would take out the whole cafeteria with 488 students with the bombs they planted there. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Or, think, of course, then of Holy Week and the events of what happened to Jesus and the trauma and the shock and the surprise. I want you to think with me for a few minutes about these two lenses, the cross and the resurrection, and I want to make sure you have them in.
Or, you might think of it as contact lenses. If they’re both right… if one’s not right, you just feel discomfort. I want you to have both lenses firmly in place, as you look at all these things, the events of this week, the events in the news, the events in your own life. Think with me first about the cross, the cross as a lens that we look through. The cross, of course, is at the heart of the gospel, and Paul writes here. Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He didn’t die for his sins. He died for our sins, because something was radically wrong with us.
He was buried, which means, confirmation, he really died. The cross, what does it remind us of? Well, it reminds us of all kinds of things. It reminds us of the holiness of God. It reminds us of his just judgment on sin. It reminds us of our rebellion and brokenness. It reminds us of the world’s rebellion and brokenness. It reminds us of life under the curse, the reality of death. It reminds us that some people hate the light, and they hate what is good.
The cross reminds us of our desperate need for a savior and God’s merciful provision in providing a substitute. The cross reminds us of the cost of following Jesus Christ as one of his disciples. Is this lens firmly in place? I mean, go ahead and put it in. Make sure it’s there. Make sure it’s a part of your vision, that you’re seeing straight.
I remember when Columbine took place. I was a pastor at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church, and I happen to live near Columbine High School. I decided to go over and volunteer as a crisis counselor that afternoon and that evening, and then I got home that evening, and I got a call from the Governor’s office.
His assistant press secretary went to our church, which I didn’t know about, and she said, “We’re looking for a pastor to be on CNN, very early in the morning. I can’t find anybody. Would you come on and talk about a pastoral response for students who were… and families going through the crisis?” Every pastor played a different role in Littleton during that terrible, terrible week, but I remember how it was such a shocking thing.
Lots of people said, “It could never happen here, because this is Columbine High School in the beautiful foothills of the beautiful state of Colorado.” I remember Time Magazine, on its cover, and the cover, the caption was, “The monsters next door. What made them do it?” I remember thinking the scapegoating and hearing the scapegoating. “It’s those two. That’s the big problem.”
I remember thinking, “It’s actually more than that,” because what drove those two kids to that is in all of us. It’s the problem of our own sin nature, that shows itself in all kinds of dysfunctions and hatreds and cruel words and cruel actions. It’s as old as Cain and Abel. That’s what’s going on. Columbine confronted us with our wretchedness, just like the cross confronts us with our wretchedness and our sinfulness and the need for a savior, the desperate need for someone to save us from God’s wrath and his just judgment and hell.
We need someone to intervene, and the cross tells us that someone has. God sent his son to die for us and for our sins. The cross reminds us of the reality, not only of God’s judgment and salvation, but the reality of suffering in this broken world, “Live long enough, you’re going to suffer. Follow Jesus long enough, you’re going to suffer.”
I’m wondering. Is that lens firmly in place in your eye, where you look at life through the lens of the cross of Jesus Christ? Because, if it’s not, you’ll be shocked by things that… happening, happened. You’ll be thrown off course. You won’t be able to process it rightly. You won’t be able to hold fast and stand firm as Paul’s talking about. Do you have that lens firmly in place?
Then, there’s a second lens, and the second lens is the resurrection. Think with me about the lens of the resurrection, where to look at life through the… of the resurrection, the two lenses. Our text says, “Christ was raised from the dead.” According to the Scriptures, “He rose on the third day. He appeared to many, most of whom are still living,” so he appeared to Peter, the 12, the 500. He appeared to James, Jesus’ half-brother, who would’ve been a great skeptic. Then, finally, he appeared to Paul.
Do you have the lens of the resurrection firmly in place, so that you look at life through that lens as well? The resurrection reminds us of important things just like the cross does. It reminds us that the cross was effective. It reminds us that death is not the final word. It reminds us that there’s victory over evil, and there’s power that comes from on high. It reminds us that there’s hope for an incredible future.
I mean, think about those things for a second. The cross came and then the resurrection, and when Jesus rose from the dead, it vindicated him. It validated everything that took place on the cross. It meant that the cross wasn’t a defeat. It meant that sin’s payment was sufficient by Jesus, that he propitiated, he absorbed and turned away the wrath of God as it was coming at us. He paid the ransom.
Redemption was accomplished. Reconciliation became possible. Death doesn’t have the final word. How good is that? Death, sin, hell met their match in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s impossible for death to hold him. The resurrection means, Jesus is still around. Isn’t that good news? When we pray, he’s there to talk to him. When we worship, we can really worship knowing that he’s here with us.
The resurrection means, evil does not win. The resurrection means, there’s a new beginning that we can be raised up. New things can be raised up. The resurrection means, large stones in our life can be rolled away. The resurrection means, I have a future hope. If something happens to me tomorrow, and I drop over, I have a glorious future in Jesus Christ, and so looking at life through the lens of the resurrection is important as well.
Do you have that lens firmly in place? Now, here’s what happens. Here’s the issue. The issue is we get out of balance. We have a distorted vision. It happens in different ways, and I want to give three examples from church history. On the one hand, I see a lot of… When I look around, I see “cross only” Christians. They emphasize the cross. The resurrection is not on their minds for some reason.
They tend to be joyless. They don’t live in the good news. Sometimes, they’re overly pessimistic. They celebrate Good Friday, but they never quite make it to Easter. There’s not victory. I’ll give you two examples of that. One is mainline Protestant rationalism, where you just say, “Well, we reject the resurrection,” which means, all they have left is a crucified, dead Jesus. It’s pretty hopeless.
They have his example of sacrifice, but there’s no… there’s no strength. There’s no power. It’s pretty limp. It’s pretty hopeless. Well, I think of some forms of Roman Catholicism, especially in the Middle Ages and in Latin America today, where Jesus is the dying hero, depicted with gruesome realism in the stations of the cross, but you don’t get any sense that he’s risen from the dead. You don’t get any sense, except when you move into some of the Catholic charismatic circles, that you… the balance starts to come back.
It’s interesting, that you have a powerless Jesus, and just suffering becomes everything. Then, if there are “cross only” Christians on the one hand, I think I’ve met a lot of “resurrection only” Christians on the other hand. Have you met them? I mean, it’s the opposite thing with them, resurrection without the cross. You have Easter without Good Friday. They read the last chapter, but they forget the rest of the book.
Do you ever do that? I hope you don’t do that with your classes. It’s not good. It’s terrible when it comes to the work of Christ. You have to hold them together, but there are a lot of Christians who… They’re triumphalistic. Martin Luther described it this way. They have a theology of glory without a theology of the cross. Or, I’ve seen people go into a pastoral ministry, young pastors, and they’re thinking, “I’m going to be the next Francis Chan,” or… but they don’t realize the suffering involved in ministry. They’re “resurrection only.”
They have to put it in deeply theological terms and over realize eschatology. I mean, so much is focused on the future, they forget the living in the now. Now, you know who’s guilty of this is, so often, evangelicals, our own household. We’re like this. We run to the resurrection. We have no time for Good Friday or anything before that.
It shows in our lives, where we expect total success, to win all our battles, to find all the answers now, to live happily ever after. We have a lopsided view of ministry. We think we’re entitled to our best life now, and when trouble comes along, we are thrown on our bottom, and we don’t know what to do, because we have a… one lens in place, but the other is not, and we have a distorted vision.
Peter was like this. Jesus said, “I must suffer, Peter, and die.” What did Peter say? He said, “No way, Lord. You can’t do that. That’s not part of the picture here.” Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.” The key is to get our sight back and get these lenses in place, so that we can see straight, the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul described them in 1 Corinthians 15, we need both. They are inseparable for seeing straight as we live our lives.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, that we would know the power of his resurrection. At the same time, we would know the fellowship of his suffering. Interesting how he puts it that way. Do you have both lenses in place? When you have the cross and the resurrection as your two lenses, you live out biblical hope and biblical realism. There’s a realism, what [John Stein 00:36:49] would call silver-minded biblical realism, a realism about life as it happens, but a firm and fixed hope on what is yet to come.
It’s amazing what the lenses do if they’re set straight, and so my hope and prayer is, that this Holy Week and next year, Holy Week, that instead of just running right to Easter, you would slow it down and take time to be in God’s word and walk through the week with Jesus. Watch a film. Read a book to deepen your faith and your understanding of the work of Christ. Read a devotional. Go to services at your church.
I’ll take you back to where we began in Paul’s passage. He said, “This is the gospel. You received it but stand in it now. Hold it fast.” My word to you this morning is, “Hold it fast.” I want to go back to the words again. Just hear them one more time. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the 12.”
What God has joined together, do not separate. Get the lenses right. I want to close this in prayer. [Bernie 00:38:13], come on up, because you’ve got a little announcement. You’re going to help us this week. I’m grateful for Bernie and for what… the film club. I’ve wanted to come to some of the movies, but I haven’t been able to do it so far. Tell us what’s happening here this week.
Well, thank you very much. First of all, how about President Sweeting? That was fantastic. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
He also accidentally served as a wonderful transition actually, because he’s talking about lenses and sight, and we can find Christ in so many different ways, obviously, in the word of God and, obviously, in prayer. As President Sweeting himself said, I think, in some cases, we can also find him in film. This Holy Week, I’m actually going to be showing three different, I guess you could say, passion plays. Those are stories of Christ’s passion and death.
They come from three very different eras in the 20th century or early 21st century. I would encourage you to maybe take a couple of hours out doing your Holy Week markings and check out at least one of these films. We got them on Tuesday. That’s tonight at 7:00 PM, tomorrow night at 7:30 PM, and then Thursday, Holy Thursday, at 8:30 PM. The ones on Tuesday and Thursday are for chapel credit, but the one on Wednesday is not, but I would love to see any and all of you at one or all three. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Why don’t you just stay up here, and why don’t we close in prayer? Let’s stand. Father God, we do thank you for your goodness, and we thank you for the gospel, which is our hope. We thank you for the gift of your son, and so, as we go through this week, I know we have lots of work and assignments and many other things going on but help us to be fixed on the greatest events that ever happened and let them be an anchor for our soul.
Let them being new lenses for our eyes, so that, as life happens, that we have a stability. We can stand and we hold fast, so would you please bless our students. Would you keep them? Would you make your face shine upon them and be gracious to them? We ask, Lord, these things in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and all God’s people said-